The ants were busy on the ground, big black ones with shiny bodies and the little dusty quick ants. Kino watched with the detachment of God while a dusty ant frantically tried to escape the sand trap an ant lion had dug for him.
He watched the ants moving, a little column of them near to his foot, and he put his foot in their path. Then the column climbed over his instep and continued on its way, and Kino left his foot there and watched them move over it.
These two quotations are from Chapter 1 and Chapter 6, respectively. Kino’s two encounters with ants are not important to the novel’s plot, but they reveal a great deal about Kino’s position and attitude at two key moments in the novel and thus form an important contrast with one another. The quotation from Chapter 1 occurs during the idyllic opening description of Kino and Juana’s life. Kino’s detached attitude toward nature suggests that he is a part of nature but also above it, like God. The description of the ant caught in the sand trap is a subtle instance of foreshadowing, as it mirrors Kino’s eventual experience as a helpless prisoner of his own ambition.
The quotation from Chapter 6 describes Kino after the pearl has corrupted him. He is no longer detached from nature, and therefore he is no longer like God. Yet, as he becomes more animal-like, he aspires to be more like God by trying to affect the ants’ behavior when he places his foot in their path. He does not succeed in changing nature, however; rather, nature simply renders him insignificant, as the ants methodically ignore him and climb over his shoe. As Kino’s greed brings him from his initial human dignity to a plane closer to that of animals, he loses something essential to his humanity, as well as the easy, simple relationship with nature he enjoys early in the novella.